BEDLAM Indie Games,Much stranger than fiction - Games Weekly

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Monday, November 10, 2014

BEDLAM Indie Games,Much stranger than fiction

Is this some kindof Oculus Rift VR machine?” asks Scottish heroine Heather Quinn as she wakes up in a retro Quake-style landscape surrounded by bulging marines and deadly floating brains in jars. The answer is far more meta than that, my friend. You’re actually the lead character in a first-person shooter based on Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam a sci-fi book that was written as a love letter to the pc games of the ’90s.

Perhaps it’s best to start at page one. Are you sitting comfortably? “We contacted Chris after reading his novel Pandaemonium to see if he had any ideas for a videogame,” explains co-founder of RedBedlam, Nick Witcher. “I’m a big fan of Chris’s books and noted the references to videogames in other novels of his. We met up and talked a lot about games, TV, film, music etc. It’s from these discussions that the concept of Bedlam came about. Chris decided the best way for him to develop the story in depth was to write a novel around the idea.''

Thistle do nicely
The book is the story of Ross Baker, an underpaid medical scientist who ends up inside the world of games, jumping from genre to genre as he tries to escape. Refreshingly, Bedlam the game stars a female hero instead of Ross as the team decided they wanted to deliver a brand new story to
accompany the novel. “We were conscious that those who had read it might not want to play as a character whose story they already knew,” says Witcher.

“Chris had a eureka moment when he realised we could explore the same worlds from a slightly different perspective: a female one. The game satirises the conventions of first-person shooters, so having a female perspective instead added another dimension to that as we could play upon the way women have been depicted and how women gamers are marginalised in this most macho of genres. It made so much sense to us as developers and we’re really happy with the Heather Quinn character.”

Heather or Athena when she decides to go with her Gamertag to try to fit in starts firmly in sci-fi territory where she takes on hordes of pleasantly nostalgic, faceless marines. Shooting off limbs and watching pixelated blood spurt from amputated arms and legs, the Steam Early Access Build is a delightfully gory wander down ol’ memory lane. Characters spin buggily and bosses merrily soak up bullets while an angry Scotswoman swears and asks for God mode to be switched on.

Genre hopping mad
It’s a surreal experience to then leap into a war torn Berlin with all its weaponry, but it becomes Wreck It Ralph levels of joyous as Heather points out the waist-high walls of the cover shooter genre as she switches out a laser for a sniper rifle.

In a bizarrely self-referential moment, a voice comes crackling into your ear about problems in the Minecraft world and it’s easy to wonder if cramming so many genres into one game was problematic. “Sometimes development has gone really smoothly and all of our plans have worked, but some genres have caused issues,” admits Witcher. “Really it’s about telling the Bedlam story. We’ve not just slapped in different game genres to make a point: it’s always been a question of how does this add to the story and does it work in the game.

Official IPs are neatly side stepped with only brief mentions of games such as Bioshock, Half-Life and Assassin’s Creed, while each world safely mimics the tropes of our favourite genres.

Ghost watch
While happily tackling shooters and their bullet-ridden clichés, Bedlam also approaches the world of arcade games but from a first-person perspective. Experiencing the delights of our favourite dot-eating ghost avoider is a uniquely horrific test of gamer mettle as Heather moves inside some familiar cabinets.

“I think the arcade levels are really important,” enthuses Witcher. “It's great to have RPG and RTS worlds, but the arcade levels really bring home the story. We're particularly proud of Chilli Chomper [a twisted version of Pac-Man].We always knew this would be terrifying as an FPS and it really is.”

With Scottish comedians Kirsty Strain and Robert Florence on vocal duties, Bedlam has its tongue firmly in cheek. “The tone of the characters had to be realistic and represent real gamers, which we think we've achieved,” explains Witcher. “We want Bedlam to strike back against how seriously typical first-person shooter games take themselves these days.”

RedBedlam is only focusing on getting Bedlam on as many platforms as possible at the moment, but the plans are for a trilogy of books and games based in Brookmyre’s world. Steam Early Access means the team is working on feedback from the gaming community and taking on ideas to improve things before a full release next year.

When asked about what kind of responses they’ve been receiving from players so far, Witcher is suitably candid.“I think our favourite contribution was when someone commented on the retro-look of the visuals early in the game by saying: ‘They blew all their budget on developing a playable female character!’

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